David Maxfield is coauthor of the New York Times bestseller, Influencer.
Dear Crucial Skills,
Do you have any resources related to the Influencer model for dealing with racism in the workplace?
Dealing with Racism
This year alone, employees from four organizations approached me about handling racist incidents including nooses hanging over lockers, swastikas painted on doors, hate language written on bathroom mirrors, and racist epithets used during large meetings.
I’ll use our Influencer model to show how an organization can set and enforce a “zero tolerance” standard around racism.
Determine the results you want. In dealing with such a nebulous problem like racism, it’s important to focus on one result. I recommend your result be to create and maintain a safe and productive work environment that is free of intimidation, threats, or harassment.
Identify vital behaviors. Focus on the behaviors that drive your desired result. I recommend two vital behaviors:
1. Eliminate racist actions, including behaviors that any member of the organization finds intimidating, threatening, or harassing.
2. Promote inclusive actions, including behaviors that support diversity in the workforce.
Build a six-source influence model. Racism is supported by a set of beliefs, behaviors, norms, and structures. The solution must be similarly comprehensive. Our research shows combining at least four, and preferably all, of the six sources of influence creates a solution that is ten times more likely to lead to success. Below are four sources of influence organizations combating racism might choose to target.
Structural Motivation: Reward respectful behaviors and punish racism. For example:
- Establish a zero-tolerance policy for racist talk, writing, and symbols. Make it clear that violators will be terminated as well as prosecuted.
- Use performance reviews and promotion systems to track and reward people for eliminating racist actions and for promoting an inclusive workplace.
Social Motivation and Social Ability: Use formal and informal leaders to enforce social norms of zero tolerance. For example:
- Have senior leaders take strong actions that show their commitment to eradicating racism. One of our clients found slurs written in a men’s bathroom. Senior leaders brought in private investigators who swept for fingerprints and interviewed employees. The investigation convinced everyone that leadership was serious about eliminating racism.
- Identify opinion leaders from diverse job titles, departments, seniority levels, and racial groups and have
them evaluate, endorse, and partner with managers to lead the initiative.
Personal Ability: Build awareness, share experiences, and teach skills related to eliminating racism and furthering inclusiveness. For example:
- Expose subtle forms of racism—actions that may be unintentional and yet hurtful.
- Train people in how to confront and report racist incidents, and make sure they understand their responsibility to report these incidents.
Personal Motivation: To change behavior, make racism a moral issue. People must cringe when they witness or learn of situations involving intimidation, threats, and harassment. Here, the most powerful strategies are those that demonstrate the personal toll of racism. For example:
- Make the connection between racist actions and violence. Frame the issue in terms of morals and safety.
- Find formal and informal leaders who can tell stories about how racism has impacted their lives.
- When staffing facilities, departments, and projects, have people from diverse backgrounds work together to build understanding and empathy.
I’ve used the six sources of influence to brainstorm a wide variety of strategies. Now I call on you to build on the ideas I have here. What have you seen that worked in combating racism? I look forward to learning from you all.